The new Agricultural Visa program came into effect in October and provides pathways for permanent residency for workers from 10 South-East Asian nations provided they pledge to become indentured with an employer for at least three years.
The requirements attached to the “Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement” relating to these visas are also very loose:
The HILA will allow Australian businesses in the industry to sponsor overseas workers across 31 occupations, and provides concessions to standard skilled visa requirements.
Key features include:
- additional occupations not on existing Skilled Occupation Lists
- salary concession (10 per cent discount on the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold, currently $53,900 per annum)
- age concession (up to 50 years of age)
- English language concession
- pathway to permanent residence.
Interestingly, no countries have signed onto the new visa, which the Morrison Government blames on scaremongering by the Australian Workers Union (AWU):
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the new visa holders would be on farms by Christmas and begin to ease the industry’s chronic seasonal worker shortage.
But negotiations with the Southeast Asian countries the new program was targeting has stumbled. Mr Littleproud pointed the finger at the AWU for generalising and demonising Australian farmers to international representatives, which had muddied the waters.
“The AWU has met with ambassadors and visitors, and contacted many embassies from Southeast Asia, encouraging them not to sign up to the agricultural visa because they believe that Australian farmers will exploit their citizens,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I don’t know why the AWU hates Australia so much and hates farmers so much.
The AWU’s national secretary Dan Walton hit back hard:
“Our union has no desire to demonise agriculture, but nor will we stay silent about an industry which, report after report, has shown is addicted to worker exploitation and worker abuse,” he told The Australian.
“If your industry serves up a mountain of bad apples you have to be unethical, stupid, or both to ignore the need for systemic reform.”
Mr Walton said the union would continue to sound warnings about the agriculture visa, describing it as “dangerous” and an avenue for “more exploitation”.
The Seasonal Workers Program (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) are widely regarded as being the best regulated farm visa programs. Yet these too have been exposed for “modern slavery“.
All existing forms of farm visas have been ruthlessly exploited by farmers, and the Morrison Government’s agricultural visas will only make the power imbalance and exploitation even worse.
As noted by Abul Rizvi, “it now seems inevitable Australia will join the many nations around the world where exploitation and abuse of low skill guest workers is just a normal part of the economy and society”.
The AWU is justified in speaking out.